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Legislation Introduced in Senate to Weaken or Rescind COOL

Senator John Hoeven, and Senator Debbie Stabenow introduced legislation in the Senate on Friday, July 24, 2015 regarding Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). The Voluntary Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) and Trade Enhancement Act of 2015 provides for voluntary labeling of beef, chicken, and pork, with strict definitions of how the USA brand of “born, raised, and slaughtered” is defined. Full repeal of the mandatory COOL law has been tracking its way through legislation garnered by support from anti-COOL legislators, industry groups, and the multi-national meat packer lobbies. Senator Pat Roberts offered an amendment to the highway bill to fully repeal mCOOL.

“The Kansas Cattlemen’s Association (KCA) has always supported and continues to support a label that explicitly tells the consumer the true origin of their beef, which is what we have as law today,” stated Tyler Dupy, KCA Executive Director. “To fully repeal mCOOL is unacceptable, and the concept of a voluntary program has been tried unsuccessfully in recent years.”

Although the bumpy path to develop and fully implement mCOOL has been twenty years in the making, KCA considers this track to full repeal incautiously swift. The Senate Committee of Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry heard testimony strongly levied toward the opposition of mandatory labeling in June 2015, with only one party scheduled to testify in support of the law. Committee Chair, Pat Roberts, opened the hearing by discussing threats of Canadian and Mexican proposed retaliation, and how the committee must fix it. Senator Stabenow certainly came to bat for COOL, much like in years past, but that work has been done. The law is not what needs fixed, but KCA certainly applauds her and the co-sponsors work to protect the definition of the label.

Opponents of COOL presented testimony centered on a lack of WTO compliance with threatened retaliation, costly implementation of the program, and an overall lack of consumer demand for such a label. Additionally, opponents indicate Canada and Mexico are unwilling to negotiate with any legislation in place for COOL, including voluntary. The very construct used for the writing of the voluntary legislation proposed in the United States by Stabenow and Hoeven is similar to Canadian law, which is a basis for future negotiations of a settlement with the prevailing countries. A study completed by the University of Arkansas showed that the consumer perception of food safety and quality is influenced by such labels. The evidence in support of the repeal of COOL is all too often exaggerated or even contradictory.

“The beef industry as a whole has many ethical and moral obligations, from pasture to plate. I regularly look in my local grocery retailers, and I recently saw a pound of beef labeled ‘Product of Canada, Mexico, USA, Australia, and New Zealand.’ Without the label, the packers and grocers will not be required to provide a true picture of what is in the package. It certainly raises the eyebrows of consumers I speak with when they hear of 16 ounces of beef together in one package with an origin of five countries over multiple continents,” stated Dupy.

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